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PWCS Includes Furlough Clause in 2020-21 Employee Contracts

| June 14, 2020 | 0 Comments | Education

Photo by Ashleigh Henegar

Prince William County Schools employees received their 2020-21 school year contract, Friday, which contained some new language many teachers found disconcerting.

The new clause grants the school division the ability to furlough employees in the event of an epidemic or other crisis that would disrupt the school year or cause schools to close temporarily. 

Furloughing is not a reduction in staffing, but an employer could temporarily suspend an employee without pay. The school division also said an employee may be paid less if the amount of work for that teacher is reduced. Employees would be returned to work once schedules returned to normal.

Virginia K-12 schools closed this year due to the Governor’s orders in response to the pandemic, but all PWCS employees continued to be paid in full.  According to the Governor and State Superintendent of Schools, it will not be a typical year.

The Governor announced last week that in-person learning will likely resume in the fall; however, school divisions may need to stagger schedules to accommodate smaller class sizes and provide social distancing. Virtual home learning may be an option.

Many PWCS employees are concerned about the new language. They did not receive any prior warning that the clause would be in their contracts, and they have to return their contracts by June 15.

Here is the language of the clause:

  1. The employee may be furloughed without pay in the event of an epidemic, State of Emergency, natural disaster, force majeure, loss of funding, or other event or occurrence which results in the closure of schools or other school facilities or otherwise impairs the operations of the School Division during the term of this contract. The School Board reserves the right to place the employee on an unpaid furlough status during the term of this contract for any period that the School Board, in its sole discretion, deems appropriate. In the event that a furlough is implemented, the pay that the employee is otherwise entitled to receive under this contract shall be reduced for each furlough day on a daily rate basis to be determined by dividing the salary stipulated in this contract by the number of days officially covered under the provisions of this contract. 

Superintendent’s Statement 

Despite the clause, the PWCS’s Superintendent of Schools said Prince William County Schools does not anticipate a furlough, and he will do everything within his power to prevent implementing one.

After receiving complaints and concerns, Superintendent, Dr. Steven Walts issued a statement to teachers, Friday, 5:45 p.m. 

“Please know there are no plans for any furloughs in the next year. I have, and will continue to place, our employees as our first budget priority,” wrote Walts. “During the great recession of the past decade, while school divisions nationwide laid-off employees.”

He also gave his, “personal commitment that I will do all in my ability, and authority, to advocate for all employees and to minimize economic hardships to the extent possible.”

Prince William County Schools is Hiring 

According to PWCS School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef, the decision to include the clause was a school administrative decision, and not something the school board voted upon, nor had to. 

The school board was aware that due to the pandemic, contracts could look different. In the last quarter, the school division received $4 million less from the state than anticipated. Lottery income is down and that affects the funding of schools.

He noted that PWCS continued to pay all salaried and hourly employees this year while other divisions did not, in his opinion, a good sign that employees will continue to be paid next year.

Lateef also said PWCS is currently in need of more teachers.

Teachers always retire, but it is a daunting year to begin a teaching career, which is causing the hiring shortage. Different schedule could also require more staffing, he said.

He also said PWCS is in a better position than many other school divisions. He cannot say if furloughs would be based on seniority as this furlough is historic and the situation unique. The school board, which usually takes a hiatus, will continue to meet over the summer to prepare for the 2020-21 school year.

PWEA Response 

Prince William Education Association [PWEA] worked with the school division in sharing its concerns and creating a contract. PWEA President Riley O’Casey said the school division sent her a copy of the contract Friday night.

O’Casey said they immediately worked to prepare an email regarding the contract to its membership. This is before PWCS employees received notice from the school division.

“As you may be aware, most school divisions across the state are including furlough language in contract this year due to the global pandemic and many unknowns regarding next school year,” said the PWEA message. “We strongly believe that PWCS will do everything to avoid a furlough for our employees. The Director of Human Resources reviewed the contract in detail with PWEA, and we feel that the FAQ does a good job addressing concerns and answering questions. Please remember to read everything in your contract and sign by Monday, June 15th.” 

Within PWEA’s Q&A, the association said, “Every eventuality will be undertaken to avoid any reductions in pay or staffing levels. However, should an exceptional occurrence trigger a possible furlough, it is important for employees to understand the contractual obligations, regulations, and polices that will guide the implementation of any such changes”

O’Casey reminded employees that they received full pay this year. She said she would have liked PWCS to provide information on the furlough ahead of sending out contracts.

Read the PWCS Full Statement Below from Dr. Walts. 

Dear PWCS Colleagues,

I am hearing that the contract sent today may be causing speculation and concern for some employees. Please know that, as was shared in the email from Associate Superintendent Amy White, my highest priority is always the well-being of students and staff. Please know there are no plans for any furloughs in the next year. I have, and will continue to place, our employees as our first budget priority. During the great recession of the past decade, while school divisions nationwide laid-off employees, PWCS did not.

I recognize that the legal requirements and language can be a bit scary and intimidating. It is important for each employee to have a transparent understanding of your rights under your contracts and your responsibilities. You have my personal commitment that I will do all in my ability, and authority, to advocate for all employees and to minimize economic hardships to the extent possible.

As I shared in my remarks earlier this week, this was not the school year anyone expected. However, thanks to a remarkable community effort we made the best of an incredibly difficult and unprecedented situation to support our students, families, and each other, as best as we could.

Thank you to our teachers, student learning, and student services staff, who remarkably transformed learning for our students nearly overnight and adjusted rapidly to the challenges of supporting students virtually and remotely. Thank you to our administrators, who worked tirelessly on the many logistical challenges, from managing staff remotely, to ensuring every student had technology, to distributing materials and coordinating diploma pick-ups.

Thank you to our support staff and teams of dedicated employees. All our departments have been working hard from distributing more than 606,000 meals, to technology and communications keeping us connected, to our human resources, finance, and facilities teams continuing critical work uninterrupted.

The year ahead will not be easy, and we have many more questions than answers right now, but please know you have my gratitude and thanks for a job well done.

Please find some peace and rest this summer. Stay healthy and safe.

© 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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